This Blog 2019, Goals and Grommets

Inspired by the 2019 goals post over at Charles's Dragons Never Forget Blog, I figured I would do the same thing. 2018 right around ...

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

When the dice hit the table:

When the dice hit the table how much interpretation is too much?

In many RPG games a player will roll D( fill in a number here ) add some bonuses and if the result is over a target number the action is a success. It is common because it works.

        Where even similar systems start to differentiate is in how much information is interpreted from the  die roll. Infact different players of the same game might interpret dice differently as it implies to what going on in the  game fiction. One player might say, "I hit! Here's my damage roll." and be done with it. Another player might say, "I rolled very high and hit by a mile, got him right in the face! Here's my damage roll." It's' a subtle difference, and while mechanicaly it still ends with a damage roll, the dialogue at the table is different.

I believe that RPG's are at their best when the  GM and the players use the  following structure.

  1. The Player says I want my character to achieve X.
  2. The Gm sets a difficulty (Difficulty is set by whatever means the game dictates)
  3. If the roll is a success the player gets to say how the character achieved X
  4. If the roll fails the Game master gets to say at what point the characters efforts to achieve X went south.
If rules for die interpretation come into play those rules should only be implemented at stage 3.
Having guideline about how successful a successful action is can help fuel the player's imaginations and lead to interesting descriptions. Every player loves a "critical Success" and critical successes are one of the ways in which degree of success has been implemented in the game since the beginning of the hobby. (or darn near to it.)
The Gm should be free of restrictions when  describing failures as part of the fiction. Having rules for "fumbles" is also traditional. The tension at a table can spike when a character rolls a dreaded critical fail and everyone around the table knows the GM will narrate some awful blunder. While I Like fumbles and critical failures I don't see them as necessary to a game. I don't even see fumbles as a  necessary foil to a mechanic that allows for critical success.

Why am I writing about this:

I have been thinking lately that the glaring weaknesses in the games I write have to do with die interpretation and die manipulation. 
Let's look at some examples of my own stuttering steps.
In Phase Abandon there are a lot of ways to manipulate dice.
  • Use a chip to reroll a die.
  • Re-roll 6's for more success
  • Helper dice form other players
  • At higher levels of skill re roll dice to get the  best hand of 5 results. 
On top of that phase has die interpretation. The number of successes rolled equals how many facts the  player can add to the narrative. Ones rolled signify the character getting hurt or somehow diminished, which has to be worked into the narrative. It's a good deal to process on each die roll. It goes fast when our group plays, but hell... we wrote the game.

AAIE, is an anomaly because it is built starting at the  fumbles and critical successes. It is all about mechanically derived levels of success or failure. I think it's more accessible than Phase, but only because it's written to be  silly and does not demand the attention Phase does.

Loot Box, has a 2d10 percentage system with the player option to reroll a die to attempt a better result. It's a kind of press your luck mechanic that I'm still kicking around and am not very happy with. In this case there are no rules dictating the interpretation of the die results, other than the ability to critically hit a target. The dice work well enough I just think as a whole the  game moves to slowly and I am trying to be too cute with the die mechanics.

For my next project:
Winter is coming which means more time indoors to type and think about things. I have been kicking around some ideas concerning the Shard of Thimbral game I quit on about a year ago. I am in love with the setting but it just never got the traction I was hoping for. I think Shards was too reliant on die interpretation when I first worked on it.  The idea of rolling dice then  dialing back the results to gain the ability to narrate while making success at the current task actually "less likely" was strange. The idea of dialing dice forward or upward in value to ensure a quick success at the cost of narrative detail was down right strange (even off putting) to  the people I talked to about it. I still like the idea, just re-visiting it as I write this makes me think how interesting it "could have been." It was all die interpretation fueling dialog and narrative and all a bit to  "un-gamery" to coin a word.
On my next visit to Shards I'm going to go  very much in the opposite direction. A roll vs difficulty  pass or fail, and  allow some of the  subsystems to add the uniqueness that marries a system and a setting.
My main point being once the  roll is out there on the table it is immutable, which is not at all what I have done with my games in the past. Any shading of the fiction will not be born in the die roll but rather the players description of a success.
Again this is nothing new for games, in fact this is the most basic and oldest way to do this sort of thing. It' new for me to look at a game mechanic this way for my own purpose.

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